In the spirit of the season, the Wolves gave back to their fans the ultimate gift: a healthy Kevin Love. Out of nowhere (so it seemed), Love returned to the starting lineup tonight. And Love made up for lost time with a first half that had Wolves fans mapping out the parade route.
Love had 16 points and 6 boards in the first quarter on his way to 22 and 8 in the first half. Those 16 first-quarter points accounted for 62% of the team’s scoring. Not bad for a guy that missed the first 9 games of the season.
Riding the emotion of Love’s unexpected return and his hot shooting, the Wolves took a commanding 14-point lead into the half. A victory seemed all but a formality. But the emotion was left in the locker room. Poor shooting from the field and line ultimately did in the Wolves as the Nuggets pulled out the win.
Putting aside the outcome, this was an exciting night for Wolves nation. Love was joined by Pek and JJ in returning to the floor. All of a sudden, a team that couldn’t field more than 9 players, had so many players that D. Will didn’t see the floor (a topic for another post). Wolves nation was finally starting to see what this team will look like when healthy. And the potential is promising.
The starting five is a work in progress until Rubio returns. But, you can see the makings of a strong starting lineup. Pek and Love are efficient scorers in the post that rebound with the best of them. AK47 is a jack-of-all-trades type player that scores, rebounds, defends, and hustles on every possession. He’s simply the perfect compliment to Pek and Love at the 3-position. The Wolves still don’t have a 2 so long as they keep Shved in his 6-the man and 4th quarter role. Though, that could change if Roy somehow returns from another knee operation – not counting on it at this point.
Once Rubio returns, the bench becomes 7 deep: Ridnour, JJ, Cunningham, Shved, Stiemsma, Howard, and D. Will. It’s a nice compliment of players too, each with a critical role to the team’s success. In JJ and Shved, you have two playmakers, capable of creating scoring chances for themselves and others. Howard, if his knees hold, plays a similar game to AK47, and can be a strong defender and outlet scorer. And my personal favorite: Cunningham. He’s battles for every rebound and loose ball, never gives up on a possession, and he has a strong mid-range game.
You saw these players’ potential while Love, Pek, JJ, and Budinger fell to injuries. These role players stepped up and played gritty, fighting to a winning record. Shved showed he belongs and isn’t afraid of the big-shot. Cunningham showed the tenacity that has quickly become his hallmark for this squad. And AK47 did a little bit of everything to lead this young team; the savvy veteran. Now when healthy, it’s a matter of finding that balance and settling into their respective roles.
Some may consider this next statement overblown hyperbole, but it hopefully proves not to be: tonight may be the start of a new era for Wolves nation. With a healthy Love surrounded by a roster that has quality talent and depth, this team can develop into a playoff team not only this year, but also in the years to come. Finally, a team we can all be thankful for this Thanksgiving season.